One of the best Christmas presents I got this year was a Groupon for a Body Language class with the NonVerbal Group. It was a three hour freestyle lecture on topics citing research done by various institutions and by the NonVerbal Group itself. The instructor, Blake Eastman, said reading people is all about one thing: Awareness. You can’t deduce anything about a person from one gesture. Crossing arms doesn’t necessarily mean a person is standoffish. Maybe she is cold. Talking fast doesn’t mean someone is nervous. Maybe they had a lot of coffee. All we can do is notice a person’s mannerisms, and notice the changes.
We all have a certain set of baseline mannerisms: how we sit, how we speak, any fidgets, our blink rate. Baseline refers to how we behave at rest. These are based on the environment (climate, people around, any other stimuli,) our biology (any disorders or physical abnormalities,) culture (how much touching or eye-contact is normal in our background,) and emotions. The big one we try to figure out when we read a person are the emotions. However when we read a person’s baseline mannerisms, we need to account for environment, biology, and culture too. Why is that person blinking a lot? Is he nervous, or is it the bright lights? Or the does he have an eye twitch? We can never really know what accounts for a given person’s fast blink rate on it’s own. We need to notice change.
When a person who normal blinks at, say, 20/minute, suddenly starts blinking at 60/minute, now we have something to work with. We can assume his biological or cultural programming didn’t suddenly change. We can check the environment. The light may have gotten brighter. But if environment didn’t change, we can assume it’s his emotional reaction to me asking if he ate my cookies. Because that’s what reading people is for, right?